Conservative Pluralists: The Cultural Politics of Mormon-Evangelical Dialogue in the United States at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Duffy, John-Charles
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • At the turn of the twenty-first century, Mormon and evangelical intellectuals in the United States initiated theological dialogues and other exchanges meant to promote friendlier relations between their religious communities. This Mormon-evangelical dialogue was unexpected. During the late twentieth century, evangelical countercult apologists had launched the most intensive wave of anti-Mormonism seen in the U.S. since the anti-polygamy campaigns of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, Mormons and evangelicals had historically been aloof or hostile toward interfaith dialogue and the ecumenical movement. Mormon-evangelical dialogue represented a turn toward pluralism by groups known for their theological exclusivism. Theirs was, however, a cautious turn toward pluralism. Afraid of compromising their religious identities or truth claims, Mormon-evangelical dialogists rejected pluralist theologies and defied the liberal convention that divorced interfaith dialogue from evangelism. Instead, these dialogists practiced a high diplomacy in which they pursued competing partisan agendas--evangelism or apologetics--while they also tried to meliorate sectarianism among their coreligionists by advocating civility and mutual exchange. Mormon-evangelical dialogists characterized these complicated interactions as true pluralism, by contrast to liberal interfaith dialogue, which they believed tended toward relativism. American Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and mainline Protestants voiced similar anxieties about relativism during the same period as they reconsidered how to engage with religious others. Mormon-evangelical dialogue exemplifies how some American religious conservatives at the beginning of the twenty-first century thought that pluralism should be practiced. Using methods of intellectual history, this study untangles the multiple agendas at work in Mormon-evangelical dialogue during its formative period, 1997-2008: Mormons' attempts to discredit the countercult movement, evangelicals' hopes of converting Mormons to Protestant orthodoxy, Mormon and evangelical dialogists' efforts to marginalize more sectarian voices within their movements, and dialogists' promotion of conservative culture war politics. The study contextualizes the dialogue in longer historical trajectories and broader cultural shifts to show how these conservative intellectuals renegotiated the terms under which their religious communities simultaneously accommodated and resisted forces in post-1960s American culture that promoted pluralism. Primary sources include sermons and devotional literature, theological and apologetic publications, evangelism training programs, films, audio recordings of conferences and other events, websites, and blogs.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Religious Studies."
  • Maffly-Kipp, Laurie F.
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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